“My husband died [a few] years ago and I’m in more pain now than I was the first week after he died. I’ve remarried, but this pain won’t [go away].”
“I have been a widow for [several] years now and it is still very devastating.”
“I am just ‘going through the motions.’ It has been years and I still can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
“I feel like I’m going backwards. You think that in time it will get easier but it just ‘gets different.’”
“The first year was hard but I found the second and third years even worse. It seems like the longer they are gone, the more you miss them.”
Have you ever had any kind of dental work? Of course you have. What happens after the dentist is done drilling or pounding or extracting and that anesthetic starts to wear off? It hurts—a bunch!
One of the reasons that you may feel worse as time passes or as though you’re “going backward” is that the fog that we just talked about—the “anesthetic” that has cushioned you against the shock of your loss—has begun to wear off. Just as happens when that dental anesthetic begins to wear off, the anesthetic that has numbed you against your loss begins to wear off as life slowly begins to resume. The fog begins to lift and the pain becomes more acute—more real. Furthermore, things like legal and financial matters, transitioning your children into a life without Daddy, and returning to work can all serve to postpone the facing of your own grief, with which you may just now be starting to cope.
Another reason that you may be feeling your emotional pain even more acutely with the passage of time is that you did not allow yourself adequate time to heal initially. There is no shame in that of course, but as my mother used to tell me, “If you skip over any part of your life, at some point in time, you will go back to retrieve it.” This is what you may be experiencing now.
(This is also the explanation used to rationalize ninety-year-old men with bad comb-overs wearing diamond studs in their ears, shirts unbuttoned down to their navels with obligatory gold chains, and driving fire-engine-red sport cars).
For whatever reasons, at the time of your loss—whether it was too difficult for you to be alone; a friend or relative told you that you should be “over it” and you believed them; you busied yourself to distraction with work, children, or both—you were not permitted to truly grieve and accept that which had happened to you.
Ever hear the phrase, “back to basics”? This is what I’m going to encourage you to do now—go back to the “basics” of healing. Even though you may be further away from your husband’s death in terms of chronological time, you may very well need to revisit the very basic first steps of healing in the ways that I described earlier. Reestablish your basic routine; pay attention to your health and start your recovery processes over again.
If you have since remarried or otherwise re-involved yourself in a serious relationship, you need to share your feelings with your partner. Don’t keep them guessing by playing the “What’s Wrong / Nothing” Game because that’s unfair to both of you. Let them know that you still don’t feel as though you are quite past your loss and that you’re going to need love, patience, and under-standing while you attend to this very important emotional growth period in your life. I assure you that anyone who truly loves you and is committed to you and is aware of what you have been through is going to understand and support you all the way through your pain.
Finally, if you feel that all else has failed and that despite all of your best efforts to seek support, take advice, and implement suggestions, you just can’t seem to move forward in a healthy and positive way, get help! This truly does bear repeating over and over again because you don’t have to do this all by yourself. While continuing to surround yourself with the tools and the support that you need, you should consider consulting with your doctor as to therapies and different alternatives that will best serve you and your needs right now. Emotional wounds and symptoms are every bit as serious as physical symptoms and your doctor is in a position to either help you or direct you to a specialist who can help you.
Our widowed friend put it so well earlier when she observed that, “It doesn’t get easier; it just ‘gets different.’” This observation is actually one of the first things that I teach all widows. Will life be the same as before? No, it won’t. Will life once again be wonderful? If you open your mind and your heart to that possibility, it certainly can be.
From Happily Even After: A Guide to Getting Through (and Beyond) the Grief of Widowhood by Carole Brody Fleet. Reprinted courtesy of Viva Editions.